What is HPV?

Diagnosis - HPV - Human Papilloma Virus. Medical Report with Composition of Medicaments - Light Green Pills, Injections and Syringe. Blurred Background with Selective Focus.

HPV, also known as human papillomavirus, is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases among women and men. HPV can affect the genitals of men and women but tends to have a much more profound effect on women. There are over 100 different strains of the virus, so treatment and diagnosis can be difficult. Most people may not even know they have contracted HPV since it only shows symptoms in about 10% of patients. Others may have the disease and not know it, and it can subside within a two year period. Recent studies have shown that HPV can be dangerous, however, and that it can lead to cervical cancer in women. This is why education along with proper vaccination is so important, particularly in younger women.

What is HPV?

About 20 million people in the world have been infected with the HPV virus at some time in their life and 3 out of every 4 Americans have been infected with the genital HPV type in their lifetime. 80% of American women by the age of 50 have contracted some type of genital HPV and several hundred thousand women die of cervical cancer caused by HPV every year. Women are not the only ones affected by HPV. HPV infection is considered common in men, but they usually have no symptoms. They can, however, still pass the virus on to their partner who may develop a serious disease. Although it is considered rare, some men will develop penile and anal cancer from HPV, about one in every 100,000. Gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to get HPV related anal cancer than heterosexual men.

Science Daily reports a sharp increase in Tonsil Cancer caused by HPV. Out of 120 patients tested in Sweden with Tonsil Cancer, 83 of them tested positive for HPV. That is a 93% increase since 1970. In the past, Tonsil Cancer was usually connected to smoking. This illustrates the alarming increase in HPV patients. It is more than likely this record of increase that has spawned the research and cultivation of vaccinations like Gardasil.

HPV or Human Papillomavirus has about 130 types, with about 30 to 40 of those being types that are sexually transmitted. The different HPV types are labeled by number and they cause some type of skin or mucous membrane wart or lesion. HPV and warts are referred to by the different strains of the virus.  Types 2 and 7 are associated with common hand warts, while 1, 4 and sometimes 2 cause foot warts called plantar warts. Plantar warts occur on the soles of the foot and represent a small skin lesion with a cauliflower-like shape and a tiny black hemorrhage spot in the center. Types 3 and 10 are flat warts. These are flat skin lesions, reddish brown in color and are usually found on the hands and face. This type is more commonly found in children. Types 6 and 11 and others are the types that cause genital warts, a sexually transmitted disease. Almost all cases of cervical cancer develop from HPV type 16, 18, 31 and 45. Some HPV types have no symptoms whatsoever.

HPV can infect the body and then become dormant for years. At a later date, it can awaken and cause an infection in an unsuspecting partner with sexual or skin to skin contact. The virus is transmitted by direct contact and not by bodily fluids. The virus enters the skin or mucous membranes through micro-abrasions in the tissues and then it begins to divide and grow in the body. Sometimes years pass before lesions appear and the virus is detected. This makes it hard to determine in some cases which partner the virus was contracted from.

There is no specific HPV test for men on the market. Women are tested for HPV as part of regular screening for cervical cancer known as the Pap Test. But there is no way to conduct a general test in the body for the HPV virus and even if there was, the virus usually goes away on its own without causing disease. It is more important to find out if you have a disease that was caused by HPV than it is to find out if you have HPV.

The only sure method of prevention is total abstinence from sexual activity and skin to skin contact. In addition to this, a vaccine called Gardasil was developed to prevent certain types of HPV, specifically the types that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It is recommended that the vaccine is given to girls ages 9-12 since it is most effective in girls who have not become sexually active yet. Gardasil is administered in 3 doses over a six month period of time. The Gardasil vaccine is not for girls that are pregnant or have an allergy to yeast. Side effects of the vaccine are mild and range from redness, itching, and swelling at the site of injection to nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. The use of a condom during sexual activity may slightly reduce the chance of contracting HPV, but it is certainly no guarantee, because skin that is not covered by the condom may still be able to pass the infection.



US Food and Drug Administration Office of Women’s Health


CDC Vaccine Page


David Christian

David Christian studied Philosophy at Cardinal Glennon College in St. Louis, MO and served in the US Army. He is the Head Writer, Subject Matter Expert and Dr. Coordinator at warts.org. Find out more about David here.

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